Winning hearts and minds: US promotion of a democratic Islam
Although very considerable attention has been paid to democracy promotion, especially in the Middle East, little has been devoted to its ideological aspects. This seems odd when it is recalled that ideology formed an integral and relatively successful part of the Cold War campaign against Soviet Communism. The struggle, however much at its core it may have involved a competition for power and influence between two Great Powers and their allies, was cast in the stark terms of an existential threat and good locked in struggle against evil. Just as culture had been an ‘operational weapon’ from the late 1940s on, America’s current encounter with radical Islam has prompted resort to the broadcast media, among other means, to win friends and defuse opponents. In the language of the Cold War, it is designed to manufacture consent through peaceful means.1 This tactic is part of a larger campaign, the War on Terror, which has looked to the democratisation of Muslim societies as a bulwark against radicalisation. This process would in turn, it is argued, benefit from the development of an Islamic democratic political culture, and an influential point of view holds that external support for specific groups and individuals can help to bring this about. But, as we will see, to the extent that this view has been promoted from Washington, it puts American policy on to precarious theological ground.